In case you haven’t heard yet, hundreds of elk have descended on Estes Park, Colorado. They’re in the parks, on the sidewalks, and crossing the street – quite the bizarre sight. Perhaps even stranger to most, this invasion happens every single year, always from mid-September to mid-October. Here’s a look into the why behind this seemingly odd occurrence.

As you may have guessed, there’s only one thing that could bring this many elk together in an urban environment – mating season. The main two players are the bulls, or male elk, and the harems, or groups of female elk. Throughout the month, the male elk try to impress the female elk by showing their strength during something called rut, in which bulls spar with each other in a clash of antlers. The male elk will also bugle, which is when they make a high-pitched cry that’s very noticeable, sometimes devolving into a series of grunts.

Elk in RMNP Dougal Brownlie Gazette
Photo Credit: Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette.

BUT WHY ESTES PARK?

Many that see the hundreds of elk in Estes Park wonder “why here”…”why not somewhere else in Colorado?”

What this answer really boils down to is the elk sticking with their traditions regardless of what the humans are doing.

According to Kyle Patterson, representative at Rocky Mountain National Park, elk have been coming to what is now Estes Park for years, long before humans started building roads around town. Estes Park falls in the “winter range” of the elk, which is also the range where the happenings of mating season occur annually. Elk head to their “winter range” in order to compete for the right to breed with a herd of females. The street signs and buildings haven’t been enough for them to alter this tradition yet.

WHERE TO SEE THEM

Two spots that the elk tend to frequent include Horseshoe Park and Moraine Park, but it’s never hard to find them elsewhere. There’s also an annual elk festival at the end of September called “Elk Fest,” that’s – you guessed it – all about elk.

If you do choose to visit KEEP YOUR DISTANCE and DON’T LINGER. It’s a truly amazing spectacle and it’s hard not to gawk, but elk can become aggressive when feeling threatened, and mating season tends to have these creatures a bit on-edge already.

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